“Sushi is not the only way to savor delicious fish in Japanese cuisine,” says Yuji Haraguchi who is the owner of the small empire of five Japanese restaurants located in Brooklyn, Tokyo and Kyoto.
His establishments run the gamut from fish-themed ramen shop Yuji Ramen, Japanese-style baked fish breakfast eatery Okonomi and Lorimer, Kyoto-style sushi restaurant Okozushi to fishmonger Osakana. Since he opened Yuji Ramen at 31 in 2012, his business is growing fast.
Here is what is on his mind right now.
Akiko Katayama: How did you get into the food business?
Yuji Haraguchi: I always enjoyed cooking and was interested in global business. When I moved from Tokyo to Boston in 2009, I found a job at True World Foods , which is one of the largest wholesale distributors of fresh and frozen seafood in the US. I started as a sales representative and eventually became a marketing manager in New York in charge of promoting fish imported from Japan to American chefs.
Katayama: Why did you decide to open Yuji Ramen?
Haraguchi: When I was at True, it was very rewarding to see American chefs, who were not familiar with Japanese fish, getting exited about what I brought in. But I started to wonder if I was adding any value to the products. The best fish was carefully caught and sent to the Tsukiji Fish Market, and selected and packaged by the skilled buyers there. I was only taking the final products to the final users.
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Also, sushi was the only thing people thought of Japanese cuisine around that time. But ramen just started to catch on. There was no ramen specialized in fish toppings (pork is the standard traditionally), so I decided to use the fish ramen concept as a medium to educate American consumers that there were cheaper ways to enjoy high-quality fish without spending $100 at a sushi restaurant.
Katayama: You also focus on local fish, even though you are extremely knowledgeable about fish from Japan. Why?
Haraguchi: Fish from Tsukiji is great because the distribution chains from fishermen to consumers are very different from those in the US. We cannot change the temperature control or packaging systems here overnight, but by generating demand for undervalued local fish such as porgies…